Sept. 13, 2007 - A group of viruses known to cause respiratory and gut infections may also be a major trigger for chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS).
In a newly published study, four out of five CFS patients showed evidence of chronic enterovirus infection in stomach tissue biopsies, compared with just one in five healthy people.
Enteroviruses are very common, second only to the common cold viruses as the most common viral infections in humans, according to the CDC. Most people who are infected with an enterovirus have no symptoms at all.
California infectious disease specialist John Chia, MD, says his findings point to chronic infection with the virus as a possible cause of chronic fatigue syndrome in a large percentage of patients.
But a longtime CFS researcher says the complex disorder is not likely to be so easily explained.
James Jones, MD, of the CDC’s chronic viral diseases branch, says despite extensive research, no cause-and-effect relationship between an active infectious agent and chronic fatigue syndrome has been established.
“This is an illness with a lot of different origins, and to assume that its cause is due to an infection because the symptoms are similar to an infection is a great leap,” Jones tells WebMD.
Chia, who practices medicine in Torrance, Calif., says he began researching chronic fatigue syndrome soon after his son Andrew became sick with the condition in 1997 at age 14.
“It took us a year to find out what he had,” he says.
Early efforts to find a cause for CFS focused on viruses. Jones was among the first to suggest that chronic infection with the virus that causes mononucleosis, the Epstein-Barr virus, might explain the disease.
But the failure to find persistent evidence of Epstein-Barr or any other virus in the blood of CFS patients led most researchers, including Jones, to look elsewhere for causes.
The lack of a diagnostic test for chronic fatigue syndrome also led many to dismiss it as an imaginary disorder, but recent research by CDC and others have proven that it is both real and common.